Joe Jordan | Nebraska Watchdog OMAHA—Following a series of Nebraska Watchdog reports detailing residency questions surrounding Jaime Gutierrez Mora, the newest member of the powerful arena board, City Attorney Paul Kratz says she is not qualified to serve on MECA.
In an official opinion released Friday, Kratz left Gutierrez Mora’s future on the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority up to the mayor and city council. MECA runs CenturyLink Center, TD Ameritrade Park and the Civic Auditorium.
“I will review the city attorney’s position and reserve my opinion until I talk to Ms. Gutierrez,” said Mayor Jean Stothert.
City Council President Pete Festersen, who initially backed Gutierrez Mora’s appointment, is standing by her and says she has the continued “strong support” of the council.
According to Festersen, Gutierrez Mora, an Hispanic woman, Omaha taxpayer and business owner, is more than qualified to sit on the board, with “desirable attributes of a MECA board member.”
As Nebraska Watchdog first reported Gutierrez Mora, who was appointed to MECA by the city council in May, told city officials she lives at 5029 South 19th St.—a modest $125,000 multi-family residence in South Omaha.
According to the Sarpy County Assessor’s web site, she owns a wooded $600,000 home in Bellevue at 107 N. Bellevue Blvd.
She is also the owner of Midwest Maintenance, a large South Omaha janitorial firm, which has a multi-million dollar contract with MECA; an issue that has sparked other questions pertaining to a possible conflict of interest. However, Kratz’s opinion did not discuss that issue.
Nebraska Watchdog has shown a photo of Gutierrez Mora to a woman who says she’s lived next door to the 19th Street address for the past five months. She says she’s never seen Gutierrez Mora.
Two weeks ago, on Bellevue Boulevard, a neighbor told Nebraska Watchdog that Gutierrez Mora “lives right across the street.”
In December—only months before her appointment—Gutierrez Mora changed her voter registration from the Bellevue Boulevard address in Sarpy County, where she most recently voted in November 2012, to the South Omaha address, according to a spokesperson for the Douglas County Election Commissioner.
According to Kratz, Gutierrez Mora is and remains a long-time resident of Sarpy County. “It is inconceivable that she has moved from her large Bellevue home to a small, old multi-unit house in Omaha,” writes Kratz. He also notes that although she changed her voter registration to Douglas County in late 2012, she failed to vote in this year’s city primary or general election.
Kratz says the rules in place “allow for removal by the Mayor with consent and approval of the City Council if so desired.”
Nebraska Watchdog is told that some city power players were concerned that Gutierrez Mora had played fast and loose with the state’s voter registration laws.
According to the Nebraska Voter Registration Application, voters take an oath that they “live in the State of Nebraska at the address provided…” Knowingly signing a false application can result in a Class IV Felony which carries with it a maximum $10,000 fine and up to five years in prison or both.
Earlier this week Election Commission spokesperson Valerie Stoj told Nebraska Watchdog the commission had not received any formal complaints against Gutierrez Mora and is not currently looking into the case. Stoj said if a complaint is filed the commission would turn over any evidence and information to law enforcement for a formal investigation.
Kratz’ opinion did not discuss the need for any further investigation.
However, according to the website Objective Conservative, Pat McPherson on Friday filed a formal complaint with the Election Commission suggesting that Gutierrez Mora “may have in fact committed vote fraud.”
As Nebraska Watchdog also first reported Omaha labor leader Terry Moore and State Sen. Brad Ashford rallied behind Gutierrez Mora. In a letter to Mayor Stothert, obtained by Nebraska Watchdog, Moore and Ashford—two founding members of the original MECA board—made the case that Gutierrez Mora has “strong ties to Douglas County.”
Four years ago similar questions revolved around then-MECA chairman David Sokol.
In February, 2008 after Sokol sold his west Omaha home, election officials were notified that Sokol had a new residence in Wyoming. Because of the “resident elector” requirement then-Mayor Mike Fahey moved for Sokol’s ouster from MECA. But, as Nebraska Watchdog reported, when Fahey was told by private donors to the downtown ballpark that if Sokol was out so was their money, Fahey backed off and Sokol remained on the board.
Kratz says the Sokol case is different than Gutierrez Mora’s.
According to Kratz, after Sokol declared he would no longer vote in Douglas County, Sokol “changed his mind” and re-registered in Douglas County. Kratz says although Sokol had a home in Wyoming his business was in Omaha and “his intentions were to return each night to his condominium in the Old Market and make that his primary residence.”
Gutierrez Mora has not responded to calls from Nebraska Watchdog seeking comment on this story.
To see previous Nebraska Watchdog stories on this subject click here
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